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Team of Ages: Managing Across Generations

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There is no master plan or magic key to preparing a manager for career success.  Furthermore, there is no best method to manage people, especially when there are differences in age, skills, goals, and aspirations.  Managers must develop employee’s skills to cultivate cohesive teams, regardless of age or other differences.

One issue that seems to be prominent in the media and the minds of managers across organizations today is the ages of employees at different levels of the organization.  While many managers wonder how to cope with changing team dynamics and age diversity, there lies an opportunity to develop, advance, and refine technical, management, and leadership skills among employees.  There is no need for age warfare; each person is an asset or liability, regardless of their age.

An internet search for managing across ages or managing across generations yields many articles that describe the different generations, compare and contrast how the generations differ, and explore the challenges managers face in managing across generations.  While those articles present valuable information about each generation, their findings only reiterate that each group is different, and do nothing more than expand the divide among age groups.

Organizations routinely recruit new personnel from different generations, educational backgrounds, and skill levels. Employee selection is based on potential (education and skills), and age is not a factor.  New hires are assigned to a manager who ensures each employee understands their role and responsibilities within the organization and the team to which they are assigned.  Accordingly, managers can significantly influence effective interactions by clarifying the importance of each employee to the organization.

During my early years of military service in the U.S. Navy, I was a young Sailor looking to expand my knowledge and prove my abilities to my supervisor and peers.  There were many technical, management, and leadership skills I needed to learn.  I was fortunate to have great mentors and leaders, as well as some not so stellar ones; nevertheless, there were plenty of opportunities to learn and grow.  My example is not uncommon in military units across services where there is a constant flow of new personnel that needs guidance and development before advancing in their field.

My most successful and challenging tour of duty was as the program manager of an operations division of a helicopter squadron.  I was responsible for mission planning and analysis for a division that had personnel aged 20s to 40s, a steep learning curve, and constant turnover. While age differences were noticeable, it was a mute factor.  Each member of the team was trained and developed to perform his or her technical function within the division.  Furthermore, each team member, regardless of age, was given the opportunity to be cross-trained and to develop management and leadership skills.  By focusing on skill development, the division was able to mature as a cohesive team and achieve the highest evaluations during training exercises.

Yes, there are differences among the generations; however, these differences are nothing new.  Much like a chessboard where every piece adds value to the game, each employee, with skill development and managerial guidance, adds value to the organization, regardless of age.


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